The Questions That Will Ultimately Define Who We Are

Can our pluralistic democracy survive an attack by those who view themselves as engaged in a holy war?

In his article calling for the removal of Donald Trump from office, Mark Galli of Christianity Today noted the unambiguous evidence that the president has abused his power. But then he added this.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

That gets to the heart of the issue about Trump for many people of faith. The man has demonstrated a lack of morality in how he conducts himself in office, as well as in his personal life. Beyond his history of sexually abusing women (and bragging about it), are the ubiquitous lies. As we witnessed once again during the rally in Michigan when Trump suggested that Representative John Dingell was looking up from hell, there is also the cruelty.

When it comes to the latter, Kathleen Parker wrote that it is a shame that cruelty isn’t an impeachable offense. But I was immediately reminded of the powerful piece from Adam Serwer titled, “The Cruelty Is the Point.”

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright.

That is a harsh assessment and I personally know people of faith who abhor Trump’s particular brand of cruelty. But Serwer isn’t completely wrong in his assessment. The culture of resentment on which the president’s base of support is built assumes that they are at war. As such, they revel in the president’s cruelty. For example, here is Evan Sayet.

The Left has been engaged in a war against America since the rise of the Children of the ‘60s.   To them, it has been an all-out war where nothing is held sacred and nothing is seen as beyond the pale.  It has been a war they’ve fought with violence, the threat of violence, demagoguery and lies from day one – the violent take-over of the universities – till today.

The problem is that, through these years, the Left has been the only side fighting this war.  While the Left has been taking a knife to anyone who stands in their way, the Right has continued to act with dignity, collegiality and propriety.

With Donald Trump, this all has come to an end.  Donald Trump is America’s first wartime president in the Culture War…

So, to my friends on the Left – and the #NeverTrumpers as well — do I wish we lived in a time when our president could be “collegial” and “dignified” and “proper”?  Of course I do.   These aren’t those times.  This is war.

That is only a bit more militant than something we recently heard from the attorney general during a speech he gave at the Federalist Society.

In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion.  Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection.  Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end…

Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.  We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing…

…there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy war.

As our culture continues to open the doors of belonging to those who have traditionally been left out, the people who hold that worldview see themselves as losing a “holy war” with enemies who are out to destroy them. That is what feeds their sense of resentment and victimhood. As Lance Mannion wrote, “if they are under attack, then they’re free to fight back.”  It is in that sense that they embrace Donald Trump’s cruelty rather than find it appalling.

The question this raises for the rest of us is whether our pluralistic democracy can survive an attack by those who view themselves as engaged in a “holy war.” Is there a place for reasoned dialogue and disagreement with those who have chosen to use “any means necessary” to impose their will on everyone else? On the other hand, can our pluralistic democracy survive if we join them in sacrificing reasoned dialogue on the alter of winning at all costs? Finally, will these questions ultimately be answered if Donald Trump is resoundingly defeated at the ballot box in 2020? Or will the challenge persist?

To be honest, I don’t have the answers to those questions. As we head into the new year, they will continue to be front and center as our country struggles with defining who we are and what we want to become. What I can promise is that the Washington Monthly will be here as those questions unfold and we’ll do our best to reflect on how they’re being answered.

I hope you’ll join us for that journey and, to help us keep that promise, please take a moment to donate to our current fundraising drive. We can’t do this without your financial support. Thank you!

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.